After you've been cooking for a while, some dishes will acquire a definite sentimental value. It might be the first dinner that comes out perfectly. Or perhaps it will be a meal associated with a highly charged emotional event-a reunion of old friends, a family celebration, the first night your wife brings the boss hone for dinner.

For me, this dish-an unlikely combination of lamb shnks, sweet potatoes and green beans-has the strongest sentimentl tug of them all. Possibly because it's directly associated with one important aspect of the early marriage years; survial.

During thos fisr years, when babiwe were arriving as rapidly as money was disappearing, there was one prime consideration when shopping for food: How much does it cost? If mankind had not invented macaroni, it is possible that this branch of the McGrady family would have been starved out. A big day was hamburger; the biggest day of all, an invitation to eat out.

I can remember window-shopping at butcher shops the way others might window-shop at jewelry stores. One day while window-shopping, I came upon a sign that said, Lamb Shanks." The other sign was a price tag and it said, "37 cents a pound." Surely that was a typographical error. But no, 37 cents was the correct price. It would be possible to buy almost three pounds of maeat without breaking into a second dollar bill.

Buying a new cut of meat-whether it be shank of lamb or tongue of lark-always raises a question: What's the best way to cook it? Fortunately, at 37 cents a pound, there was room for experimentation that year in the field of lamb, shank. Which is why I can guarantee that this recipe is one of the best things you can do with a lamp shank.

The Staples: Make sure these are all on hand: garlic, lemons, olive oil, vegetable oil, sugar, salt, pepper, flour, paprikal vanilla extract.

The Shopping List: 3 1/2 pounds of lamb shanks; 4 large sweet potatoes; 4 large ripe tomatoes; 4 ripe pears; 1 pound of broad Italian green beans, either fresh or frozen; Fresh basil (enough for 2 cups of leaves); 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese; 1/3 cup of pine nuts or shelled walnut.s

Prepare in Adventure: The pesto sauce for the tomatoes. Pesto is a basil sauce that any dishes. It adds a unique flavor to buttered noodles; it's just fine with string beans; it is oftenadded to soups and salas dressings.

However, to use pesto to best advantage, serve it with sliced tomatoes. The fact that basil and tomatoes ripen simultaneously is one of nature's happy accidents. Insidentally, don't be alarmed if you have left-over sauce. Peato keeps well and can be frozen with no great loss of flavor.

You'll be using the blender for this one. Rinse and pat dry the basil leaves, 2 loosely packed cups. Add 1/2 cup of olive oil , 3 cloves of chopped garlic, a dash of salt and pepper, 1/2 cup of grated parmesan cheese, a generous handful of either pine nuts of shelled walnuts. Blend all this into a thick sauce and set aside.

Also Prepare in Advance: The dessert. Peel the pears and cut them into halves. mix 1 cup of water 1/2 cup of sugar and boil. Add a capful of vanilla extract. Poach the pears over a medium low heat, stirring them once or twice, and when they are soft,set them aside to cool.

4:45 P.M.: Perheat overn to 350 degrees. If green beans are frozen, take them out of the freezer to thaw.

Then, using a sharp knife, trim all excess fat away from the lamb shanks. Mix a handful of flour with a large pinch of paprika and some salt a pepper and some salt and pepper in a brown paper bag. Shake the lamb shanks in the bag until they are all heavily coated with the flour mixture.

Add a dash of vegetable oil to a large frying pan set over a medium-high heat. Put the lamb shanks into the pan and turn them until they are well browned, then transfer them to an over-proof casserole dish. Put the juice of 2 lemons into the frying pan, scrape up all the meat repsidues and add to the casserole.

5 P.M.: Cover the casserole and place it in the preheated oven..

5:30 P.M.: Peel the sweet potates, cut them into thirds and add them to the meat.

6 P.M.: A final addition to the pot: the green beans and the juice of a third lemon. Re-cover the casserole and returen to oven.

6:30 P.M.: Rinse the slice the tomatoes and serve them with the pesto. Check the casserole. The sweet potatoes should be soft, easily pierced by a fork. The lamb shanks should be tender, cooked to the point where the meat comes easily from the bone. Serve each helphing with plenty of the vegetables and drippings.

Who was it who said, "You can't go home again?" Well, you can-but remember to bring money. The other day when I went back to cook this old survival favorite, I found the familiar sign, "Lamb Shanks," beside a brand new price tag: "$1.39 a pound." It seems that even the cost of survival has gone up.